Round Hole in the Basement

This happened 17 years ago, during the winter of my third year at high school. I’ve lost a lot of memories over these 17 years, so I’m writing this down with the help of written memos. Some of the smaller details and conversations have been expanded upon and amended by myself, but I’ll do my best to tell the truth without exaggeration.

My hometown is in the middle of nowhere. To the best of my knowledge, the area was surrounded by rice fields and mountains, and if you wanted to go somewhere to hang out, the closest place was karaoke about an hour away by bike.

In 1991, a new religious establishment was suddenly built in this back country. The locals were violently opposed to its construction, and my parents occasionally participated in meetings to have it stopped. They submitted a written petition to the mayor and prefectural government, in addition to complaining to the local media, but the religious group were able to proceed thanks to what they cited as “certain conditions.” Rumours abounded as to what these conditions were, but most people suspected they paid the city a large amount of money in “donations” and, due to the areas depopulation, the government ignored the locals’ cries.

The religious establishment was built near the area where we lived, but the grounds were about two or three times larger than Tokyo Dome. Thanks to depopulation in the countryside, land must have been really cheap. Construction was completed during autumn of my second year of high school, and both my parents and teachers warned me not to go near it, and not to associate with the people there.

About eight of us from the same class went to have a look at it, but the building was surrounded by a large fence. A large gate stood at the entrance, and on either side of it, terrifying faces like Hannya masks were carved into the fence.

“Oh shit, they’re devil worshippers! Devil worshippers!” one of my friends joked when he saw them. After that, everyone at school started to call them the devil worshippers or the Hannya group.

Sometimes we rode around the area when we were bored to waste time, and also out of curiosity, but strangely we never saw any followers or staff. There were never any people there, nor was there ever any trouble, so people soon stopped caring about it.

People were no longer talking about it by the time I started the third grade of high school, but one day, a classmate by the name of A said to me, “You wanna go break in and check it out? My parents said a cute girl was coming in and out of that devil worshippers’ building. Apparently she goes out shopping every day.”

A’s family ran the only large supermarket in town. His parents were apparently very grateful to the “devil worshippers” for spending up to 20 to 30,000 yen each and every day.

“My parents said the people over there were all kind and good. They’re not scary, so let’s go!” A continued.

We had nothing to do and were bored every day, so a few of us agreed to check it out. There were five of us from the same class; myself, A, B, C, and D; and two juniors, E and F. There was no way it could be scary with seven of us together. We were excited and in high spirits.

We agreed to meet at the abandoned post office near the establishment. When I got there, A, B, C, and E were already there, but we waited 30 minutes for D and F to arrive. They didn’t, so the five us of decided to go in ahead of them. We parked our bikes nearby and walked over to the gate.

“It really is scary at night though,” someone said. “We should have brought another light,” said another.

There was a single light on inside the building, which was a considerable distance from the front gate. “Shit, they’re still awake!” “You don’t reckon they’re summoning demons, do ya?” Everyone started muttering and joking.

“We can’t get in through here,” C said.

“I know how to get in,” A replied. “There’s a small gate entrance around the corner we can enter.”

“You should have said something sooner!” C said. He walked along the wall, turned the corner, and there was a small door built into the fence. A pushed against it and it opened inward. The five of us filed in, and flicking our torches on and off, we wandered around the establishment grounds.

“There’s nothing here!”

“We shouldn’t get too close to the building!”

We discussed what to do, but there was nothing around and we were bored, so we decided to check closer. The main premises were about 100 metres from the main gate, and after that stood three buildings. I don’t remember them very well, but they had a strange outward design.

We sneaked closer to the buildings. There was a public toilet between two of them, looking neat and clean with the lights on. It was paved with white concrete and there was a bench outside.

“Let’s take a break,” A said.

“What? We’re in deep shit if they find us,” the others said. “Let’s just do a lap and then get outta here!”

“If they find us, they’re gonna call the cops,” I agreed. “We’ll be graduating soon, we don’t wanna do anything stupid before then. Let’s go home.”

But A sat down on the bench and took out a cigarette. “Alright, let’s go back after I’m done with this,” he said, so we all sat down to have a smoke.

“I need to use the toilet,” A said and then went inside.

“Is he really gonna sneak into their building and piss in their toilet?” B said.

“Well if he’s gonna shit, their demon is gonna curse him,” C replied. Then A called out from inside.

“Hey, get in here. You guys gotta see this!”

We filed in, one after the other.

“What do you think this is?” A pointed to one of the stalls.

“It’s a toilet,” B said.

“Open the door,” A replied.

“What the…?” B muttered as he opened the door. Inside were stairs leading underground.

“Weird, right? All the others are toilets, but just this one is stairs,” A said.

It was then I realised how strange it all was. First of all, A’s words and actions had been baffling the entire time. He was the one who suddenly proposed we break in, he knew where the door was to get in, and then he brought us to the toilets on purpose.

“Did you come in here to take a shit?” I asked him.

“No, yeah, that’s right,” he vaguely replied. “You wanna go down?”

Of course, I refused. “Stop saying such weird shit. Let’s get outta here. If we hang around any longer, they’re gonna find us.”

“Ha, are you scared? Too scared to even go down a little?” A made fun of me.

He was provoking me, I realised. All I could think of was that he was trying to get us down there.

“I’m not going,” B said. “I’m going home.”

But the other two disagreed. “Looks fun, let’s check it out.”

“See, you guys aren’t chicken,” A said, trying to stir us up.

“I’m not going,” B repeated. “Do whatever the hell you want.”

“Fine, then the three of us will go down,” A said. “You guys just wait here.” Then the three of them went down the stairs. B and I waited inside. The toilets were surrounded by buildings that were full of windows, so we didn’t know where someone might see us from. Waiting inside was the best bet.

“Hey, don’t you think A’s acting strange?” B suddenly asked me.

“Yeah, he’s acting weird today. It’s like he was trying to get us here all along,” I agree.

“Yeah, I think so too,” B said.

We talked about the events of the night, and what we’d do if we were discovered. Five minutes later, we were started to get annoyed that they hadn’t returned yet.

“Let’s just go home,” B said, but A and the others took both our torches, so we thought it would take too long trying to find that small door in the darkness again. We reluctantly decided to keep waiting.

Then we heard footsteps in the distance. The sounds of several people shuffling their feet nearby reached our ears. B and I looked at each other, nervous. “Shit, people are coming. This isn’t good…” we whispered. The situation became strained. The footsteps were in the distance, but we couldn’t tell which direction they were going, and if we went outside, they’d probably see us because we didn’t yet know the layout of the place.

“Shit… if they’re coming this way, what are we gonna do?” B said, panicked. My heart was pounding in my chest as well.

“They’re not necessarily coming this way,” I said. “But if they do, we’ll hide.” But there was no doubt about it. Soon the footsteps were getting closer.

B grabbed a toilet stall door and pulled, but it wouldn’t open. He grabbed the next, but it wouldn’t open either.

“Fuck! They’re all closed! Fuck!” he muttered angrily. The footsteps were about 15 metres away and getting closer. Instinctively, I knew they were coming for us. I think B felt the same way. We stood there, frozen to the spot.

“Screw it. Let’s go down the stairs,” B said suddenly.

“What? Seriously?” I replied. I did not want to go down those suspicious stairs, but there was nowhere else to hide, and if we ran outside into the darkness, we’d probably get caught. It was the middle of the night in a religious establishment, so that would undoubtedly dull our decision-making powers.

B and I opened the door and snuck down the stairs as the footsteps got closer. The stairs were made concrete, and while I thought they went down for a while, we reached the bottom after only 10 steps. We couldn’t see anything in the darkness, but as we walked forward, we found an open door.

Inside was a room. Several orange miniature light bulbs hung from the roof, casting an orange glow over the entire room. We went inside and softly closed the door behind us. It was a concrete room about 15 tatami mats large with nothing else inside. In the middle, a large round shape hung from the roof. It’s difficult to describe, but it was kind of like a large iron vertical hula hoop. It was so big that it basically touched the walls on either side of the room.

But we didn’t pay it much attention. We froze at the door and I turned to B. “Where’s A and the others? They’re not here…”

“I dunno,” he replied. “I dunno…” His face stiffened. As we suspected, the footsteps entered the toilets upstairs, echoing above us. There must have been three or four people. We didn’t move a muscle, and stood frozen before the door.

We heard voices muttering above us, but we couldn’t catch what they were saying. They were discussing something. B hung his head, his eyes closed. I don’t know how much time passed, but I tried to remember something enjoyable to break the tension. The voices upstairs multiplied, and I realised there were probably 10 or so people up there.

They knew we were hiding down there, I thought. I was so scared that I started to tremble. Their creepy voices overwhelmed me. Suddenly the muttering stopped, and then the sound of two doors opening in succession reached us, followed by another bang. We realised they were opening the toilet doors, and I got goosebumps.

“Were there people in the other stalls from the get-go?” B asked. I realised that was a possibility. The doors were locked, so people weren’t opening them from the outside, they were opening them from the inside.

Then footsteps descended the stairs. This was it. It only took about 15 seconds to reach the bottom. I squeezed B’s arm. The footsteps were around the middle. B let out a pathetic scream and shook off my hand. He ran into the middle of the room and jumped into the giant ring. He disappeared. I stared in amazement.

He should have jumped through the hula hoop, but he disappeared. I went from fear to being dazed. I stepped away from the door and towards the hoop.

‘I should apologise,’ I thought. ‘Tell them I’m sorry. We came in here without permission. I’m sorry.’

The door slowly opened. A face poked purposely through the gap. It was an old person wearing a crown. A smile lit up their entire face. I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman, but they had long white hair under the crown, and a smile lit up their wrinkled face.

It was the first time I’d ever seen such an evil smile. ‘This person’s not right in the head,’ I thought. I didn’t think they would listen to what I had to say. I didn’t want to look at that cold, robotic smile for a single second long, so a pathetic scream escaped my throat and I followed B through the ring.

I was in a hospital bed when I opened my eyes. Everything was hazy. I was looking at the roof, a needle sticking out of my arm. It took me three minutes to sit up. A beautiful sunset painted the sky outside my window.

I was alone in a private room. I could think of nothing, just sat there, dazed. I don’t know how long I sat there for, but a short while later there was a knock at the door and a nurse appeared. She looked surprised when she saw me and ran off somewhere.

The haze in my mind continued. The head doctor soon came in followed by several others, but I didn’t know what they were saying to me. My mind was blank. As time passed my consciousness slowly returned, and I started to see things clearer.

“We called your family,” the doctor said. “You’ve been asleep for a long time. But don’t worry. Everything’s okay now.”

I couldn’t tell how long had passed since I woke up, but soon someone that looked like my mother and a young girl came into the room, crying.

That wasn’t my mother. The name the doctor said earlier wasn’t my name either. The woman calling herself my mother cried in happiness. “Oh thank god, thank god!”

“Hey big brother, welcome back!” the younger girl said, breaking out into more tears. I had a brother in university who was three years older than me, but I didn’t have a younger sister.

“Who are you? Who the hell are you?” I repeated.

“It’s just the after effects, he’ll be okay soon,” the doctor said to the woman pretending to be my mother and the young girl.

“We’ll be by your side all night!” the woman said. They conducted various tests while I was lying down, and then I told the doctor, “That’s not my name. That’s not my mother and I don’t have a sister.” But the doctor just tilted his head.

“Hmm. Your memories are a little… Hmm… Listen, you’ve been asleep for close to two years, so your memories are a little fuzzy,” he said.

I was shocked. I couldn’t fathom the reality of the situation. The doctor chose his words carefully, and continued to try to cheer me up. The woman cried at the shock of my lost memories.

“I need to go to the toilet,” I said and stood up. My legs felt heavy and I could barely stand. The doctor, nurse, and young girl helped me along. It was then that I remembered the events of that night for the first time. It was strange, but after waking up, several hours passed without even once thinking about it. Everyone waited outside while I went in.

When I was done and looked in the mirror, I screamed. It wasn’t my face looking back at me. It was a complete stranger. I don’t remember very clearly, but I think I went into a panic and things quickly went downhill.

A month later, I was admitted to a general hospital. The people calling themselves my parents and the young girl calling herself my sister came to visit me, along with my so-called friends and teacher from school. I kept telling them I wasn’t who they thought I was, and that I had no idea who they were.

I told them all about A and B and the memories of my past, but they chalked it up to faulty memories and memory loss. A didn’t exist. Neither did B. There were no such people. But everyone continued to treat me kindly.

According to the doctors, I was on my way home from school by bike when a passerby found me unconscious. I was taken straight to the hospital.

I’d never heard of anything they were trying to tell me. Like, they told me, “This is Kanagawa Prefecture,” but I had no idea where Kanagawa was, and no such prefecture should have existed. I’d never heard of the “yen,” nor Tokyo. What the hell was Japan? I had no idea.

Every time the doctor asked me what I called it then, I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t remember A’s name, and even though I told them about my classmates, they always told me no such people existed.

I explained to the doctor numerous times about the religious establishment and the hula hoop, but he told me it was just a dream I had while I was in my coma. Even worse, I seriously started to believe that it was true, and that it was all a dream I had while asleep. I began to believe that not only had I lost my memories, but that I had written over them with a fake life and fake world.

Either way, I had no choice but to go forward living at this entirely different person. After I got out of the hospital, my parents took me back home.

“Do you remember it?” They asked me, but it was the first time I’d ever seen it. I went to counselling and did my best to adapt to this new life given to me.

Everything was split into things I knew, and things I’d never heard of before. I’d never heard of any places names, nor the history of this place and the people from it, but the language was mostly the same. Daily conversations about televisions and newspapers, chairs and remote controls, etc, none of this was strange to me either.

At first I was unable to adapt to my new family and spoke to them formally. I insisted on doing my own washing and such, but strangely, I came to think of them as my real family in time, and that other life seemed like a dream. As this happened, memories of that other time slowly faded away. The only thing that clearly remained was the faces of my family and friends, and the countryside town I lived in, but it still took time to remember even that.

However, that final night remained vivid in my mind. Especially the face of that old person as they smiled at me from the door.

I got used to my new life and my number of counselling visits decreased. I returned to school six months later. I was 20, so it was strange, but I made friends and enjoyed myself. All of the TV shows were brand new as well, so I could enjoy everything for the first time.

We lived in a large city in Kanagawa, so I enjoyed big city living as well. But about four months after my return to high school, something appeared connecting that world to this one. It was the summer holidays, and I went to the bookstore to get some books for my summer homework.

A title caught my eye as I was browsing the books. It was a book about that religion. There was no doubt about it, it was the same name as that religious establishment we infiltrated that night.

I was shocked. I grabbed the book and started reading it right away. That religion was, in this world, a rather important one.

In the other world, this religion was small and unknown, but here it was famous worldwide. I read every book I could get my hands on, but it was all for nothing. It didn’t change anything. I couldn’t get back. There was no way I could prove my past was real to anyone.

According to those around me, they claimed I was all because I dreamt about it unconsciously, that was all.

I didn’t want to worry my new family and friends, and I’d just started back at high school again, so I stopped talking about it. I went about my life as though everything was normal. 17 years passed, and now I’m working as a regular businessman in the city.

So, you might be wondering why I’m writing about all this. Last month, I received an anonymous sealed letter at home. It said:

I’m sorry to approach you so suddenly. I know all about you. I think you know all about me as well. It took me a long time to find you. Your name is OO, do you remember? I’ll write to you again. Don’t tell anyone about this letter. Not even your wife.

The name rang a bell, but wasn’t immediately familiar. I wasn’t worried or scared or even held any expectations regarding the letter. Rather, I felt like it was somebody else’s problem. Then, last week, I received another letter.

Basically, it said:

My name is OO. Do you remember? It would appear that you and I are the only ones who made it here. I’ll be at OO Station on the 25th at 7 p.m. Make sure you’re there. There’s something I need to tell you. Come alone.

I have no idea who that name belongs to, but I plan on going anyway. I feel like I have to. I don’t think I’ll be able to remember who will be standing there, but if it’s someone from that night, maybe I’ll remember who. I hope it’s B.

I don’t know what will happen, so that’s why I wrote all this down. I’m leaving this same tale for my wife and my younger sister, just in case.

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